10 Secret Health Benefits of Daydreaming

Daydreaming consumes up to 47 percent of the average person’s thoughts.1  Although it plays an important function in the brain, it tends to have the reputation of being a time waster. But the truth is, daydreaming has some pretty neat health benefits that many people don’t know about.

This might seem like an unusual topic on a site about maladaptive daydreaming. After all, I’ve talked a lot about how unhealthy MD can be when left unchecked. But that doesn’t mean that all daydreaming is bad. Our fantasizing still has the potential to enrich our lives when we use it wisely. Let’s look at ten ways daydreaming can be an asset.

1. Daydreaming boosts creativity.

Daydreaming has long been associated with creative insight. Many of the works of art we appreciate today were first birthed from of an artist’s daydream. But how does letting our minds wander make us more creative?

According to several studies, daydreaming activates parts of the brain responsible for creativity.2 “Mind wandering seems to be very useful for planning and creative thought,” states Dr. Jonathan Schooler, professor of psychology at the University of California Santa Barbara. “It seems that allowing people an incubation period in which to let their minds wander, really helps the creative process.”3

2. Daydreaming sharpens our minds.

We’ve all heard how important it is to be a strong critical thinker. Knowing how to analyze information, think rationally, and make sound judgments are essential skills for a person to succeed in life. Yet would it surprise you that one of the best ways to boost your logical side is by getting in touch with your imagination?

Research has shown that areas of the brain associated with complex problem solving become active during mind-wandering. During daydreaming, thoughts are allowed time to process in the back of our minds, which helps the brain generate innovative solutions and ideas.4

3. Daydreaming keeps us flexible.

It’s not easy to be prepared for anything, but when it comes to adaptability, daydreamers have the edge.

Fantasizing trains our minds to switch back and forth between tasks. Repeating this process regularly aids our ability to improvise and adapt to new situations.1

4. Daydreaming hones our intuition.

Ever have moments where the solution comes to you when you’re not thinking about the problem?

Despite how mystifying the experience is, it’s no magic trick. Those sudden flashes of insight are actually the end result of a long mental process in your brain. Even when you’ve consciously stopped worrying about a situation, your brain is still processing it in the background.

When we daydream, we encourage our brains to engage in the same mental process.   Those “Aha!” moments and spontaneous insights are more likely to happen when are minds are wandering.2

5. Daydreaming makes us better learners.

Whenever we need to grasp new information and save it for later, we depend on our working memory. Working memory is the mental capacity to retain and recall information while distracted and juggle multiple thoughts at once. Although associated with short-term memory, it also helps us concentrate and improves our reading and math skills.

Despite its reputation for being distracting, daydreaming can actually strengthen our working memory. In one study, researchers found a strong correlation between daydreaming and working memory. In fact, the participants who daydreamed while performing simple tasks performed better on cognitive tests than those who didn’t.5

6. Daydreaming can build our social skills.

We can all learn to be more compassionate. But why not use daydreaming to help get us there?

It may seem odd that a solitary activity can help us build our social skills, but the idea isn’t as impossible as it sounds. By using our minds to engineer conversations with other people, we can prepare ourselves for similar situations when we encounter them in real life.

Furthermore, studies on the brain confirm a link between daydreaming and our ability to experience empathy. One study published in Psychological Bulletin showed a direct correlation between daydreaming and empathy in Israeli high school students.6 Empathy develops during daydreaming because it trains us to consider the views of others.7

7. Daydreaming pushes us toward our goals.

Daydreaming doesn’t always have to involve fanciful getaways to imaginary lands. Sometimes it can be centered on the here and now. In fact, the more our daydreams are grounded in reality, the more useful they can be in improving our lives.

Research suggests that daydreams aid in planning for the future.  Cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman explains, “When daydreaming, the contents of consciousness tend to be focused on upcoming personally meaningful events, indicating that they may play a role in autobiographical planning.”8 In a nine-week study, students who were encouraged to visualize for the future developed more strategies to help meet their goals.2

8. Daydreaming shows us how to face our fears.

Fears are never an easy thing to cope with, however, you might find that daydreaming can help you reign them in. Unlike the real world, you are completely safe and in control when inside your own mind. You have the freedom to explore the things that you fear and root out the underlying causes behind them. Then, you can let your imagination to come up with solutions. Afraid to stand in front of a crowd? Then visualize yourself singing on stage. Or, if you’re too shy to confront someone on a touchy subject, practice the conversation in your mind before taking action.

Over time, you may become more confident in overcoming your fears and have the strength to face them in real life.

9. Daydreaming helps us heal.

Sometimes things don’t work our in our lives and we’re left feeling disappointed, angry, or frustrated. Or, we’ve been hurt by someone in the past and still haven’t let go. Either way, daydreams can help us find healing in difficult circumstances.

If you’re finding it difficult to express your true feelings in real life, try doing so through your imaginary characters. In the safety of your mind, there’s no one there to tell you that your feelings are bad or wrong. By working through difficult emotions in your fantasies first, it gives you the freedom to vent without repercussions. Eventually, you may even find that expressing yourself inwardly gives you the courage to do so outwardly.

10. Daydreaming reveals our true selves.

Want to discover who you really are? The answer may lie in your daydreams.

Sometimes we struggle to be authentic. As we move through life, we may desire to fit in with our peers or society at large. Although this is not always wrong, it can make us lose sight of who we are and what we believe. Daydreaming can help us get back in touch with our true feelings.

When we daydream, we come in contact with our subconscious mind. All of the things that we feel uncomfortable admitting out loud – our hopes, desires, ambitions, and deepest emotions – are revealed in our fantasies. By looking closely at them, you can uncover who you are and what it is you want in life.

Keep Your Daydreams Positive

If you want to reap the benefits of daydreaming, it’s important to pay attention to the content of your dreams. Daydreamers with the fewest negative daydreams are less likely to experience depression. Prioritize positive-constructive daydreaming, the type of dreaming linked with creative thought, imagination, emotions, and openness to experience. Kaufman writes, “Openness to experience is linked to many indicators of psychological health, including happiness, positive emotions, and high quality of life.”3

What do you find beneficial about daydreaming? In what ways has it enriched your life?

References

[1] McMillan, Rebecca L., Scott Barry Kaufman, and Jerome L. Singer. “Ode to Positive Constructive Daydreaming.” Frontiers. N.p., 23 Sept. 2013. Web. 21 June 2016.

[2] Kaufman, Scott Barry. “Dreams of Glory.” Psychology Today. N.p., 11 Mar. 2014. Web. 21 June 2016.

[3]Gargiulo, Susanne. “Daydream Believer: Is a Wandering Mind a Creative Mind?CNN. Cable News Network, 1 Apr. 2015. Web. 21 June 2016.

[4] Dell’Amore, Christine. “Five Surprising Facts About Daydreaming.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 16 July 2013. Web. 20 June 2016.

[5] Stromberg, Joseph. “The Benefits of Daydreaming.” Smithsonian. N.p., 3 Apr. 2012. Web. 21 June 2016.

[6] D. Vaitl, J. Gruzelier, D. Lehmann et al., “Psychobiology of Altered States of Consciousness.” Psychological Bulletin. vol. 131, no. 1, 2005. pp. 98–127.

[7] Salleh, Anna. “Social Skills Linked to Daydreaming Brain.” ABC Science. N.p., 2 Mar. 2012. Web. 21 June 2016.

[8] Kaufman, Scott Barry. “Mind Wandering: A New Personal Intelligence Perspective.” Scientific American. N.p., 25 Sept. 2013. Web. 21 June 2016.

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